Today, more of God's word to us about "joy." There's a few copies of the first in this series on the table in the back. To recap: when I was on sabbatical, away from the demands of my job, I felt empty, lost, and useless. I'd given so much to this church I'd smothered my joy. And I'm not the only one. Could it be the demands of American style democracy is crushing our happiness; inferring with the joy promised each of us by God. Well, enough sacrifice, it's time to thrive.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus wants his followers to be connected - to God and, by extension, each other. This isn't just a suggestion. Selfless connection under the careful guidance of Jesus' teaching is where joy can be found. Dan Buettner has talked with the happiest people on earth. His book, "THRIVE: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way," is a great companion to our Gospel. There's three major world-wide survey's that measure happiness. I had no idea. And Buettner tells us, "If you look at the results...from 146 countries,...people who live in advanced democracies with strong interactions (connections) tend to be the happiest." Jesus says the way to follow his example is to stay deeply connected; like branches to a vine. We're an advanced democracy; some would say the most advanced. But we're not so good at the "strong social interactions" part.
Lately, the country of Denmark's been in the news. Our President had some words with Denmark, criticizing the country, and calling their Prime Minister "a nasty woman." And Denmark's the 2nd happiest country on earth. The U.S. not as much.
So let's talk a bit about Denmark, and what the second happiest people on earth might teach us. First, the Danes aren't perfect. There are certainly issues in Danish society. But here's what's interesting about Denmark: It's organized around a more level playing field. It's not unusual for royals and commoners, wealthy and workers to socialize. Danes strive for humility, modesty and shared responsibility. Kim Kardashian wouldn't last five minutes. Listen, and ask yourself how Danes stack up to Jesus' teachings compared with Americans? Our politicians can't manage a debate on health care coverage for all of its citizens. In Denmark everyone has health care covered from head to toe for life. Danes never worry about how to pay for hospitals, medicines or doctors. Universal higher education is also part of the modesty and class neutral beliefs of Danes. Dane's get free schooling through college, plus a living allowance while in school. Let's talk employment. In Denmark there's a strict 37 hour work week. Progressive employee benefits including 7 weeks of vacation. When a child's born, the second parent can choose to stay home to help their spouse for up to a year. Fourteen weeks of that's paid. Sure taxes are high. Some 65% of a Danes income supports the shared social safety net. But, no one lacks for any basic need. There's also a significantly smaller gap between the wealthiest Danes and those of more modest means. When Dan Buettner asked one wealthy Dane how he felt about his big tax bill, he wasn't bothered at all. "It's hard to complain," he said, "when most of your basic needs are covered." Danes also do well in business. But rather than more and more profits, their focus is outward; building relationships with other countries and peoples. Trust is an important value in Danish society. That's trust of each other, and with others outside of Denmark. Danes possess none of the rugged independence; "go it alone," "get ahead," "keep my business to myself" attitude of Americans. All children, even royals and elites, are encouraged to follow their dreams and gifts, rather than simply prepare for big money occupations. When Buettner asked the dad of one of the royal families why his son was an apprentice wood worker rather than a lawyer like him, he said, "I (just) want him to be happy with what he does." All Danes involve themselves in some sort of social group or club. It's a priority in Danish life.
Set aside all the partisan chatter about "socialism." When Jesus tells us to be one with God like he is, and be connected to each other the same way we're connected to him, what kind of social order do you think Jesus expects from us? Work till your dead, dog eat dog, rugged individualism, work only for ourselves and forget the other guy, super rich versus abject poor, arrogant, stubborn, status seekers? Look, I don't think Denmark's the promised land. But, when Jesus teaches, "I've said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete." When our level of happiness gets compared to some other nations, I'm amazed our America can crack the top 20.
Well, in spite of how our society can suck the life out of us, we can still thrive, and our joy can be complete. Next week, how we can have joy right now - the Gospel way.
Lake Edge United Church of Christ
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Madison, WI 53716 [map]
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